Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

After Drug Lab Scandal, Massachusetts Throws Out 8,000 Convictions


In a bizarre scandal with far-reaching consequences, state prosecutors in Massachusetts are set to throw out over 8,000 convictions that occurred in the Commonwealth over an eight-year period between 2005 and 2013. This is the second case in the Commonwealth in recent years in which a chemist has tampered with evidence and consequently, produced possible false reports that were used to convict people of drug crimes. This is also the second case in which a judge has admonished the prosecution for delaying its findings about the effects of the tainted lab results, or what the judge in this case called, a “fraud” and potential “prosecutorial misconduct.”

According to The Washington Post, the convictions relied on the drug testing at a lab in Massachusetts and were handled by chemist Sonja Farak, who has said that she used some of the drugs she was supposed to be testing. Farak admitted to smoking crack on a daily basis but also used “methamphetamine, amphetamine, ketamine, ecstasy and LSD,” according to the Washington Post. In one particularly egregious violation of the law in 2012, Farak siphoned off 100 grams of cocaine from the police department and used it to create crack-cocaine in the Amherst lab where she worked. Farak’s eight-year bender on the confiscated drugs ended in 2013 when her co-workers finally noticed that drugs were missing and then apparently found “chunks of crack at Fark’s workstation.”

The scandal that led to Farak’s arrest and conviction was only one year after a similar scandal in Massachusetts. In 2012, Annie Dookhan was charged with a long-running scheme of creating false drug analysis for the police and courts. In that case, criminal defense attorneys were able to dismiss almost 24,000 cases with over 20,000 defendants. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts only sought to preserve 1.5% of the convictions that relied on evidence tested by Dookhan. With the second case of long-running incompetence and fraud at a drug testing lab now surfacing, many critics are calling for an overhaul of drug testing policies and more oversight over the facilities charged with handling this sensitive evidence.

In this case, prosecutors are planning to throw out 8,000 convictions where the judge or jury relied, at least in part, on Farak’s lab analysis. According to CNN, that only leaves 40 cases involving Farak that the prosecutors do not plan on dismissing. The American Civil Liberties Union along with several Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys are seeking to have all cases involving Farak dismissed.

The conduct of Farak has been compounded by what many have viewed as prosecutorial misconduct. Since the Commonwealth has become aware of Farak’s behavior, prosecutors have been slow to notify defendants or reveal the full scope of Farak’s conduct. Scolding the prosecution, the judge said that the prosecutors committed “intentional, repeated, prolonged and deceptive withholding of evidence from the defendants…. That constitutes a fraud upon the court.”

If you are charged or convicted of a crime and have any questions about your possible legal options in light of recent developments, you should contact a knowledgeable Massachusetts criminal lawyer.